XVIII: Grail Quest

It is Republic Day in India (26th January – the same day as Australia Day & Burns’ Day) & I’ve just had a lovely meal at the Sai Krishna hotel, Jeypore’s finest restaurant. It was paid for by Biswa (meaning world in the Oriyan language) & his mate Saroj (meaning lotus) – with Biswa being the 26-year-old guy who runs my fave internet shop. I guess I kinda paid for thew meal myself with me being a more than regular customer. We’d got on famously & he’d been playing me loads of Indian dance music, some of which I’m adding to my disco set. In return I gave him a load of western tunes, the like of which Jeypore has probably never seen. He says he’s gonna dish ‘em out to all his mates – so DJ Damo’s gonna be a big name in the Eastern Ghats, I hope. We had a lovely chat, with him filling me in on Orissa – its poverty, education problems, temples & dynasties – & me promising the lads somewhere to stay if they visit Edinburgh. What is also cool is they are eagerly running thro’ a print out correction copy of my Indiad as we speak – he’s just asked what thro’ means. Incidentally, Saraj says the freedom that republic day represents is merely a facade.

At the moment I am spending my 6th day in Jeypore. I reach’d here last Friday on a train from Vizag, steadily climbing up the west side of the wooded Aruka valley, with views growing spectacular by degrees. Every time we hit a tunnel a huge cacophony of screams & yelps uttered forth from the Indians – in the end I realised they were playing with the tunnels echo-systems. After a few hours we hit Asia’s former highest railway station, at 997 meters above sea level. It was usurped of the honour in 2004 by, I’m guessing, the express railway that links China & Tibet. From there began the steady drop into Orissa & Jeypore thro’ a landscape which look’d increasingly like the Highlands of Scotland.

After the comfortable hotel at Vizag I’ve opted for a bachelor’s lodge, with my decent but basic room costing a quid a night. Its a bit noisy at times, but I like the fact there’s no TV – a lot more conducive to working. The town itself is not that big; its size & the way it peters out into the countryside reminds me of Wigton in Cumbria. However, what a countryside! On one side its a level plain stretching as far as the eye can see toward the state of Chittarsgarh. On the other is this wonderful horse shoe of wooded hill, at the heart of which is this great hydro-electric dam. I took a walk over to it one day & came across this giant mace-wielding statue of the monkey god Hanuman, like a little slice of disneyworld had been planted in India. Back in Jeypore, one can find a shambling old palace in the centre of the town. You can’t get in, but can look down on it from neighbouring rooves like a sepoy sniper during the 1857 seige of Lucknow. There’s also some proper filthy bits including this schoo whose playground is essentially a rubbish damp. Then theres this old ghat, completely choked by weeds & rubbish. Still, I thought, I’ll take a wee walk round. En route I encountered 6 ean having dumps, & had to avoid a thousand human feaces – not that nice an experience actually.

This was counter’d later that day by experiencing the JAI CHITTAMALA Music Band Party. Witness a ramshackle sound system on four wee carts being dragged through the streets of Jeypore. On the heavily decorated carts were speakers & generators, plus a techno style djembi player & an eight-pad electro drum kit player. Providing the music was this cross-legged moustached guy & a Yamaha keyboard playing all sorts of celestial swirling sounds. Walking alongside were a coupel of singers, huddled like MCs at a rave. One was about eighteen, & his groove-surfing melodies were better than both Ian Brown’s & my own voice put together! Amazing stuff. On both sides of the carts were an assortment of snare players & trumpeteers, while directly in front & behind were the dancers. In front were a bunch of wee boys pulling off some amazing moves including cartwheels, while at the back were all the older men doing a lot of stuff with their hands. To the side of these were all the women, slowly walking & made up to the gorgeous Indian max – very hot – including the curious nose-bling that Orissa seems to be the home of. Behind them rode the reason for all this fun & frolics, a very handsome man, again decorated wonderfully, sat in an ambassador car either on his way to & coming back from hiswedding.

My nicest day involved a two & a half hour bus ride in search of Deomali – the highest mountain of the Eastern Ghats. En route I passed thro Koriput, which was full of soldiers with guns gaurding against attacks from the maosit Naxalites. By the time I got to Pattangi, a small dusty town, I still had another 30K to go to get to Deomali. Howevere, there was a pretty massive hill right in front of me, so I just climbed that instead. At the top I found myself like the sungod Surya, with the peaks of green hills circling on every side like orbiting planets. It was so reminscent of northern Britain it was uncanny, & I could make out the outlines of both Pendle Hill & Arthur’s seat.

I’m gonna set off into the Orissan hinterland in a day or two. Its a proper step into the unknown really. Of the five million tourists who visit India, less than one percent hit this state. Of them, the vast majority visit just Puri & Konark. The district I’m heading for is Mayurbhanj – which has lovely nature reserves full of tigers, but also 3 rapes & 2 kidnappings a day – plus a wild killer elephant that hasn’t been caught yet. In Jeypore I’ve been getting my bearings really, Orissa is another India completely & I’ve been learning a few words of Oriya to assist me – including ‘bolo swada’ which means good taste. I figure if I do get kidnapp’d by the Naxalites, by complementing their food I should get on their good side – thats if I get fed, however…

Jeypore
26 / 1 / 11

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